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Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Really … just merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Oh, yes, and “happy holidays!” And, by all means, “season’s greetings.” Or perhaps you would simply like to hunker down and whistle past the whole thing, or ruminate playfully (or seriously) about a “Winter Festival” or “Solstice Celebration” or even Cosmo Kramer’s “Festivus.” But get beneath all the wreaths and ribbons and ornaments and carolers wearing top hats; get to the heart of it all, and you’ll find a certain religious holiday. So, merry Christmas!

For those of you who seem disposed to load the words “merry” and “Christmas” into your vocabulary so you can fire them at whom you may with a subliminal “dammit” in the back of your throat and a chip on your shoulder, well … try to lighten up a little. Merry Christmas! For those who say it with an embarrassed smile or furtive glance because it’s “against company policy,” don’t worry, be happy. Merry Christmas!

For those who tend to agree with various personal advice gurus that Christmas is (a) too commercial (b) an imposition on non-Christians (c) an unfair challenge for the lonely and out of sorts (d) a phony concoction of false merriment (e) all of the above and much worse, merry Christmas to you, too.

For those who find that, in the words of Italian poet and professional pessimist Eugenio Montale, 'Holidays have no pity,' well you may have a point, but merry Christmas to you.

For those who find that, in the words of Italian poet and professional pessimist Eugenio Montale, “Holidays have no pity,” well you may have a point, but merry Christmas to you. For those who can only see Christmas in the light of the last grouch or hypocrite who crossed their path, merry Christmas just the same.

For those certain poor shepherds in living nativity scenes who wish they had not forgotten their thermal underwear, merry Christmas. For those who burn with indignation at the sight of a crèche and see it only as a profound threat to the very foundation of polite society, things are much better than you think. Merry Christmas.

For those assorted astrologists, numerologists, genealogists, forensic astronomers, and calendrical hobbyists who like to point out that we really don’t know the exact day of Jesus’s birth; that plausible dates have been discerned in November, April, March, and August, and that “church fathers” came up with the December date in 440 AD: thanks for the info, and merry Christmas.

And about those “three wise men”—the ones on camels silhouetted on that Christmas card you got? The fact is, we don’t know how many wise men came to see Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us. There may have been three, there may have been two, there may have been more. We don’t know. And the traditional picture of baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by shepherds and those wise men is inaccurate. The shepherds arrived shortly after his birth, but the wise men (however many of them there were) did not visit Jesus until he was perhaps a year old and living with his parents, presumably in a house. But, you know, that really does not matter. Merry Christmas.

Many will worshipfully share a sublime feeling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day—a connection, an attachment, a feeling of mystery and awe.

For those who are moved to tears when they sing “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World,” merry Christmas.

For those who are tickled by the musical news that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” merry Christmas.

For those South Korean mailmen who fan out on their motorbikes wearing Santa Claus suits to deliver packages to the poor, merry Christmas.

For all those thousands of Chinese who have never heard the Christmas story, but who pour across the border into Hong Kong to revel with their wide-eyed children at the ever-more-overwhelming displays of glittering Christmas trees and lighted snowflakes and Santas and candy canes throughout the city, merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas! It isn’t a test or a talisman. It’s just an expression of goodwill and real joy, a happy birthday wish shared by the more than 2 billion people around the globe who bear Christ’s name. Some of them may celebrate his birth perfunctorily, indifferently, or out of some old happy habit, but many will worshipfully share a sublime feeling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day—a connection, an attachment, a feeling of mystery and awe because of their belief that, at a certain point in history, God entered time and the universe for the daunting purpose of reconciling us rebellious human beings to himself through an awesome sacrifice of love.

Perhaps you are one of those believers, perhaps not. It is a belief the individual is free to personally reject, if not totally ignore. But in 2,000 years it has changed enough lives to change history, and at its heart is a message of hope and joy and goodwill. Even if you don’t believe it, bask in it a little. Somehow, some way, have a merry Christmas.

Ralph Kinney Bennett writes the Automobility column for THE AMERICAN.

FURTHER READING: Bennett also celebrated “An American Thanksgiving” and honored “The Guardians” on Veteran’s Day. Robert McHenry describes “Culture and Its Discontents,” Michael Barone says “Imagine Waugh Writing about the Christmas Day Attack” and AEI staff revisit “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.

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